Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 15, 2019

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 15 September 2019

Somerset fans pay homage to their skipper

Ball One – Tail chimes in with Abell

Somerset’s win over Yorkshire opened up an eight point gap on Essex, who could only draw at Edgbaston – but it still looks like a pennant showdown in the last match of the season. The second halves of the two first innings proved the turning points of the match – as lower orders so often do in low scoring affairs. With Somerset’s admirable captain, Tom Abell, en route to a near four hour 66 (Ed Smith take note) he needed late order support – and got it, with double figure scores from numbers six to ten. Contrast with Yorkshire, whose score of 88-5 represented an advantage of 18 at the same stage. But a collapse to 103 all out left them trailing by 96 runs on first innings and the Tykes were never going to get close to chasing 400+ after a more solid showing from the host’s middle order second time round.

Ball Two – Westley sets sail for a draw

If Essex were to keep their dream-shattering dream alive, they needed to dig in after Warwickshire’s Matt Lamb daddied his maiden century up to a seven hour 173 and six sessions’ batting for a draw stretched in front of them. They needed an Alastair Cook-like display to deliver on that brief and, when the actual Alastair Cook couldn’t oblige, Tom Westley stepped into the breach. His 141 and 97 were compiled in just short of ten hours and occupied the crease for 151 overs. It’s only three points for the draw, but the boost to morale after escaping from a hole like that, is worth far more.

Ball Three – DI Stevens solves cricket

Nottinghamshire’s miserable red ball season culminated in relegation with two matches to play – quite a feat with just one team sliding through the trap door. Given Notts’ recruitment policy over the years, that statement might produce a few sideways smiles of schadenfreude around the country but, be careful, there’s still Twenty20 Finals Day to come. Kent’s 43 year-old Darren Stevens was their chief tormentor this week, warming up with a near run a ball 88 then feasting on a confidence-free batting order with a couple of cheap fivefers. The evergreen evergrey all-rounder has 43 Division One wickets in 2019 at an average south of 20. Is he really still getting better?

Ball Four – Lanky walking tall

Lancashire’s win over Derbyshire sealed promotion back to Division One, a yoyo club being a more desirable description than merely a “yo” club. Dane Vilas had seven authentic bowling options at home to Derbyshire, so Josh “Hamilton” Bohannon was pushed up to number 4, his medium pace unlikely to be required. His reward was a maiden century which he, like Matt Lamb, daddied up to 174, enough to set up an innings win and a season in the top flight come 2020. Bohannon’s average is now nudging 50 and, if he kicks on, Glenn Maxwell returns (and his ever-present grin suggest he will) this match’s attack of Tom Bailey, Richard Gleeson, Saqib Mahmood, Glenn Maxwell, Liam Livingstone and Matt Parkinson looks like it’ll take 20 wickets often enough for a 2011 style tilt at the title.

Ball Five – A Durham promotion? Carse we can

When Durham lost their first four Champo matches of the season, shoulders were shrugged and another season consigned to the folder labelled “The long walk back from financial implosion”. But a tight win over Derbyshire got them off the mark and another tight win last week has made it five wins and three draws in their last eight matches. Nothing in it after the first digs, the difference between the sides boiled down to Durham finding support for Angus Robson (64) with a couple of 30s, when his brother, Middlesex’s Sam, failed to find a partner who could muster more than Nick Gubbins’s 17. Ben Carse had much to say about that, hitting the stumps four times in a row en route to 6-26. Durham have Northamptonshire and Glamorgan to round off what could be a fairytale promotion season and it won’t just be Durham supporters cheering them on.

Ball Six – England watch

Another half-century for Dom Sibley took him to a table-topping 1000 Division One runs at a strike rate of 40, comfortably the lowest of the top 25 run-getters. If England are looking for some craft and graft to complement plenty of bash and dash, he’s your man. The more radical approach would be to give Joe Root a tour (or winter) off and hand the captaincy to Tom Abell – rather as they used to do were Abell doing well for Cambridge or a selector’s godson. As for bowlers, well, Simon Harmer is the best in county cricket yet again, but isn’t English (in a cricketing sense, he’s not really South African either, his performances all the more remarkable given his personal circumstances). Of course, there are routes into the England team – and the last bowler who took such a path is currently doing rather well.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 14, 2019

Fifth Ashes Test Day Two – The Final Over of the Day

Irrefutable proof!

Ball One – Warner walks – aggrieved with some reason

Technology is neutral – the digital strings of 0s and 1s don’t know what they display and the electrical charge that animates the wires is just wobbles in a field. So “blaming the technology” is always something of a fool’s errand. That said, David Warner might want to blame the humans who develop the protocols governing its use and the human who looks at its output and interprets it. One set of technology (the visuals) showed no evidence of an edge: another (UltraEdge) did. But the on-field umpire had given a “Not Out” decision, so Warner may have expected the less than convincing evidence against that to be set aside and he bat on. History records otherwise and his world record of single figure scores as an opener in a series extends to 8. By all accounts, Warner has owned to edging it, but I doubt he would have been so forthcoming had the decision gone the other way. And it was probably still wrong in law, even if not in fact which is an interesting philosophical nuance that I’m sure Warner would be keen to debate.

Ball Two – Not summertime, but the livin’ is still easy

I suppose, since July had so many days seemingly borrowed from September, that there’s some justice in September being blessed with days borrowed from July. Of course, one might say that there’d be a decent crowd to see England play Australia at beer pong, so a full house – well, full houses – for The Ashes, is hardly a shock. The weather and, especially, the gate receipts might give the ECB some thought about scheduling, particularly in even years when England’s football team dominates the sports news agenda – the news agenda – pretty much into July.

Ball Three – Labuschagne’s pain moment

Marnus Labuschagne is a fine batsman in form, but pace does strange things to people. Jofra Archer was bowling fast and had hit him earlier in the spell and that just shook him up enough to get his thinking and his movements scrambled. Archer got one right up and right on the button and umpire Erasmus raised the finger. Like many England batsmen, he had got out of shape, the balance – always the key to success in any sporting endeavour – lost, the bat failing to make contact with the ball. It threw into sharp contrast the man at the other end, Steven Smith, who has batted for hours and hours only really flummoxed when roughed up good and proper by Archer at Lord’s. It’s another example of how Smith’s surface unorthodoxy disguises an underlying orthodoxy that gets the job done, over after over after over.

Ball Four – Smith hammers out the runs – prettily

Steven Smith can be, well, if not quite dismissed, certainly reduced to, a set of twitchy tics, crazy stats and a fine eye. He is, of course, much more than that, his concentration, his balance, his temperament and – I could go on. As if to gift us with a leaving present in this season mirabilis, his return after more than a year out of Test cricket lest we forget, he played some gorgeous strokes particularly through the covers. Amongst Smith’s many unsung virtues is his ability to hit the ball hard enough – but no more – detuning the risk, simplifying the game even more. It’s not often that one praises the aesthetic charm of the Australian ex-captain, but this was a day to applaud another side of this extraordinary character’s game.

Ball Five – Electric Curran provides excellent support for Archer’s arrow straight deliveries

The news cycle moves very quickly these days, so one needs to remember that Jofra Archer is playing only his fourth Test, but he’s already the game-changer in a skilled, if slightly vanilla, attack. Sam Curran is younger than Archer, if more experienced, and doesn’t have the fear factor Archer’s 90mph bombs strike into the hearts of even the best batsmen. He’s a smart cricketer though, whose wrist is good enough to move the ball both ways and whose brain is good enough to work a batsman out. Curran bowled nine dot balls at Tim Paine before the tenth induced the flat-footed drive and the edge through to the keeper. A perfect in-ducker saw off Patrick Cummins first ball, England’s two young guns with all seven wickets between them.

Ball Six – The over rates

Not good enough.

And, even though we’re losing overs, play continues ’til 6.30 – in mid-September. Though the light is good, the low slanting sun and dark shadows make sighting the ball, particularly in the deep, very difficult, possibly unfairly so. Anyone who has played club cricket knows this, and I’m surprised that the umpires are happy to allow play to under such conditions. Of course, had England bowled their overs in time… Marcus Harris might have caught Joe Denly! With a screaming howler from Kumar Dharmasena to end the day (rescued by DRS), it was a pretty poor finish to the day for the officials.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 13, 2019

Fifth Ashes Test Day One – The Final Over of the Day

Look Tim! Look!! Maybe he knew they were toothless

Ball One – Scoreboard? Pressure? Not us…

England batted the first hour as they always do – as if the scoreboard reads 250-2. Can positive intent mean watching and waiting, knowing that if it’s easy to score eight boundaries in the first hour of the day, it’ll be easier still in the fourth and fifth hours? Joe Denly had plenty of time to reflect on that having driven at a ball only just full of a length, the edge to second slip as predictable as Steven Smith getting into the game early.

Ball Two – Australia chances go up in flames after Ashes victory saps 1%

Test cricket is a hard school. Its unforgiving nature is one reason why we like it – love it, really. You can’t put Christians in with lions anymore – outside computer games I suppose – but any shortfall in concentration or execution is punished with a (metaphorical) mauling. On Monday morning, Australia’s players woke up as the first to have retained The Ashes in England in 18 years, some perhaps a little quicker to gather those thoughts than others, whose heads may have been a tad fuzzy. Thursday morning, they are bowling on a shirtfront and dropping Joe Root three times before he had posted 32. They’re professionals, they’re skilled, but they’re human too. Perhaps that’s what 99% looks like.

Ball Three – Paine’s painful progress

At Tea, having decided to bowl, Australia have delivered 52 overs against a scheduled 60. This column’s issue is not whether they will catch up in the extra half-hour nor even with the two or three overs that the public might lose without a concomitant refund – it’s with the sporting aspect of the dilatory over rate. Crudely put, fielding captains fail to deliver on expected over rates because it gives them an advantage – why else do it otherwise? Sometimes there is mitigation – extended DRS interludes, a clatter of wickets – not none such applies in the first two sessions today. If Australia weren’t intending to bowl their full quota of overs in six hours, they shouldn’t have chosen to field. With an extra 30 minutes taken, eight overs were left unbowled, disappearing from the match – not good enough.

Ball Four – Watch the birdy? Where?

Pigeons, to Henry Blofeld’s delight and our eventual tedium, were once a fixture at The Oval, but few (if any) blessed us with their presence today. That may be the result of of the late scheduling of the Test or even Spidercam, but one sees far fewer birds in London these days, possibly because there are far fewer insects too. No doubt there’s plenty more changes less visible in local and global ecosystems that will affect cricket as much as any other aspect of our lives. Maybe more, because cricket, with its roots in agricultural practices (still present in terms like “wickets” and “scoring runs”, the pitch 22 yards, or one chain in length). Tanya Aldred has written on this point and she is not wrong. Cricket could do a lot worse than developing a comprehensive plan to address its carbon footprint – that might take time, but the problem is not going to be solved any time soon, so get on with it.

Ball Five – Patrick Cummins is very good at bowling

Patrick Cummins bowled Joe Root with yet another jaffa, pitching off and hitting off, the McGrathian half-bat’s width doing its job again. Cummins has played all five Tests, the only seamer other than Stuart Broad to do so – and Cummins is 5mph quicker than Broad (at least). He is a captain’s dream, willing to charge in all day, new ball or old ball, bouncers or yorkers. If you could ask for the perfect pacer for today’s Test cricket, you might say. “Give me a Ryan Harris, but younger, fitter and a bit quicker.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Patrick Cummins to a tee. Lose the no balls though…

Ball Six – Same old, same old… but at least we – yawn – won the World Cup

After a pretty ordinary first session from the Australians, England capitulated again to bowling that was good, but hardly unplayable, on a pitch that has lots of runs in it for those prepared to graft. But England just aren’t prepared to graft, the top six scoring between 14 and 64*, getting starts and failing to go on. The best batsmen make big runs in the first innings, because that’s when Tests take their shape. Steven Smith averages nearly 82 in the first dig, Ricky Ponting almost 58, Steve Waugh nearly 61. England’s first innings totals in the series are 374, 258, 67, 301 and 271-8 now . You’re not going to win many Test series playing catch up like that.

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 8, 2019

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 8 September 2019

Four finalists in order of favouritism

Ball One – Trouble at t’Mill (Mill temporarily closed)

In the 140 days between their first match of the season at Old Trafford and the Blast quarter-final last Wednesday, Lancashire have played (or been scheduled to play) at the home ground on 23 days across the three domestic competitions. But they could not play their home tie against Essex on their home ground (otherwise engaged, as you may have noticed), so went to The Riverside, Durham a round trip of 291 miles. For Essex fans (and for a midweek match with a late finish and dodgy weather forecast, perhaps fanatic rather than fan fits the bill) the journey was 594 miles. The “crowd” was as sparse as you would expect, giving the match the atmosphere of an Eastern European football fixture played behind closed doors after a UEFA sanction. Why choose that venue rather than one a little more convenient for supporters? (Apologies – I should have referred to the grounds above by their correct titles: Emirates Old Trafford and Emirates Riverside).

Ball Two – Bop, Bop, Bop. Bop Bopara

On a pudding of a pitch in very cold conditions – as the Sky commentary team reminded us every other ball – Alex Davies played a gem of an innings, finding boundaries and twos with quick hands and rubbery wrists. His 80* took the er… home side up to what looked like a winning total of 159, captain Dane Vilas the only other contributor of note. After a few jogs on and off for rain, the 160 target looked too distant right up until the last ball of the 18th over, by which time 29 runs were needed off 13 balls and just one six had been hit by either side. Cue Ravi Bopara to smash the next three balls he faced over the sponge, Ryan ten Doeschate to slam one too, before Ravi hit the walk-off home run (okay, his fourth six) to send the Essex supporters (Essex supporter?) home happy yet again. Lanky captain, Vilas, took plenty of stick online for using Liam Livingstone for the crucial penultimate over, but I prefer to give credit to Ravi and Ryan, whose 673 T20 matches of experience showed at the death.

Ball Three – Hales storm sinks Middlesex

In some ways, a similar story unfolded in the second Blast quarter-final at Trent Bridge, where Eoin Morgan’s 53 off 31 balls, after the likes of AB de Villiers, Paul Stirling and Dawid Malan had failed to hit a six in the first half of the Middlesex innings, set Nottinghamshire 161 to win. The experienced pair marshalling the chase this time were openers, Chris Nash (incredibly playing his first T20 match of the season) and Alex Hales, who teed off with seven sixes. They only let their run rate drop into single figures as they cantered to the winning post with 22 balls to spare. It’s a topsy-turvy season for Notts, but you’d be brave to bet against them on Finals Day.

Ball Four – Ali’s knockout blows

Moeen, Moeen, Moeen… What to make of England’s exiled (one hopes temporarily) second spinner / all-rounder / icon? In the Test side not much more than a month ago, after his dropping reported to be taking a break from cricket, sighted bowling medium pace and… well. He had bowled handily, 1-22 off his full allocation in Sussex’s 184-6, and that can often be a precursor of a decent knock – and, to be fair, he has been in decent nick since escaping the bouncers at one end and Nathan Lyon at the other. That said, even the most fervent of this mercurial cricketer’s legion of fans could not have expected a career-best 121*, the captain’s 11 sixes making the Player of the Match adjudicator’s job a formality. Worcestershire will go to Finals Day confident of defending their trophy.

Ball Five – Derbyshire’s journeymen book a trip to Finals Day

Not by much, but Derbyshire will go into the big showpiece occasion as the outsiders of the four after a comfortable seven wickets win over Gloucestershire, 17 balls in hand. I guess that’s what happens when the biggest name in the XI is Ravi Rampaul, whose fielding is more 20th century than Twenty20. But it’s not reputations that win trophies, it’s the hard yards of runs and wickets and few bowlers are squeezing batsmen like wrist spinning all-rounder, Matt Critchley. There were no boundaries in his four overs, which went for just 21, bagging the dangerous Ryan Higgins and Jack Taylor en route. In his last five T20 matches, Critchley has delivered his full allocation conceding 25 runs or fewer, which is the kind of bowling that takes wickets at the other end. If he can defrost his fingers at Edgbaston, look out for for his freezing the scoreboard.

Ball Six – Finals Day’s fantastic finale

Three non-Test ground counties will contest Finals Day, the kind of poke in the eye to the ECB that the Three Stooges would be proud of. As ever (unlike, say, May’s FA Cup Final) a winner is hard to call with all four sides able to make a case. I’d go with Essex, who have plenty of the nuts and bolts required – explosive batting, balanced attack, good fielding – but their experience is what gives them an edge in the nous stakes when it comes making the quickfire decisions under pressure that turn tight matches. The bookies go with Nottinghamshire, but there’s only one and a half points between the four. T20 doesn’t always please the purists, but the ECB have a fine competition on their hands which is always competitive and reaches a wonderful crescendo every season. They wouldn’t want to tamper with that now would they?

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | September 1, 2019

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 1 September 2019

Kent describe a parabola

Ball One – Kent crash at Canterbury

When Kent bear Essex at Canterbury at the beginning of the month, it was the third of consecutive five wins that launched their Blast campaign into the stratosphere. But Chelmsford’s return match saw Sam Billings’ men burn up on re-entry, their seemingly nailed on place in the quarter-finals pilfered by… who else, Essex. Set 190 to win, Kent had things under control at the end of the 11th over, with Zak Crawley and Faf du Plessis going well, up with the rate, wickets in hand, like the textbook says. But the home side have such a varied attack that once Adam Zampa shot out the South African, a calamitous succession of swings and misses saw Kent fall 11 runs short. Essex still needed rock bottom Glamorgan to beat Hampshire – which, of course, they did. Because Essex always Find A Way.

Ball Two – Somerset dream of the pennant as sun sets on season

With Sussex, Gloucestershire and Middlesex also progressing, no “Test Match ground” county made it out of the South Group. Middlesex, though merely the MCC’s tenants at Lord’s, certainly pack their upper order with internationals and they needed them to come good if they were to chase down Somerset’s 226-5 at Taunton. They did. Dawid Malan, Paul Stirling, AB de Villiers and Eoin Morgan scored 181 runs between them off 69 balls faced en route to a world record. Somerset begin a very big September because, after their lightning start to the Champo season and with the Royal London One Day Cup in the cabinet, a campaign that promised so much may turn a little flat. And it might be the greatest season in their history.

Ball Three – Grizzly end for Bears and Tykes

No such last round nail-biting in the North Group, where Yorkshire won and Worcestershire lost their final fixtures, but the Pears still advanced, points in the bank. At least the White Rose went out with a bang, racking up 200 against the Birmingham Bears, who had wickets in hand but faced an asking rate in double figures from the end of the fifth over, scoreboard pressure doing its job. With the resources at their disposal, one feels that at least one of these counties should have progressed to the knockout stage.

Ball Four – Carter has them over a barrel

Lancashire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire join Worcestershire in the quarter-finals, Nottinghamshire seeking some redemption after a semi-final defeat in the RLODC and a disastrous campaign in the Championship. Their win earlier in the week against Yorkshire provided some nostalgia for for the non-millennials, as off-spinner, Matt Carter, secured the Player of the Match award with the very Sunday-afternoon-with-Peter-Westish figures of 4-0-12-0, comprising half an allocation of dot balls and half an allocation of singles. Flat Jack Simmons would be proud.

Ball Five – Batsman of the Blast (Group Stage)

In all sports, nobody is quite sure what turns the prodigy into the fulfilled mature player – for every Sachin Tendulkar there’s a Billy Godleman. Okay, the ex-Middlesex man wasn’t quite in SRT’s class as a teenager, but he had everything going for him but never came through to international class, finding his place as a solid county pro. He’s still only 30, captain at Derbyshire with 15 seasons of hard earned nous to call upon. That’s the kind of experience that produces innings of 57, 52* and 28*, steering his unfashionable county to three consecutive wins and third place in the North Group, earning his team a winnable trip to Bristol. Godleman’s strike rate of 114 is the lowest in the Blast’s top 30 runscorers, but, just sometimes, it’s not how many, it’s how useful.

Ball Six – Bowler of the Blast (Group Stage)

Steven Finn came through at Middlesex at the same time as Godleman and fulfilled far more of his promise, as 250+ wickets for England can attest. But his career has been blighted by injury (got to expect that as a pacer) and running into the stumps (Hmmm…) contributing to an incipient consensus that his action was too unreliable to be trusted, something that surely filtered into his own head. It’s two years since he played for England and he looks a long way off a recall, so he’s likely to see his career out on the domestic stage, not a career trajectory conducive to dealing with the aches and pains that come with his trade. His captain, Dawid Malan (who may empathise with Finn’s fate) asked him to run in hard and take wickets – which is what he did, going for a few sure, but knocking 19 of ’em over. It worked. He’ll be looking forward to a quarter-final at Trent Bridge where, seven long years ago, he took 2-22 for England in his four overs against West Indies.

Vitality Blast quarter-finals:

Wednesday Lancashire vs Essex;

Thursday Nottinghamshire vs Middlesex;

Friday Sussex vs Worcestershire;

Saturday Gloucestershire vs Derbyshire.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 23, 2019

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 23 August 2019

Ball One – Just not cricket?

Did you like that week of first class wicket, slyly interpolated into the T20 biffathon? Sam Billings called it “brainless” – a word that might be better employed in describing Kent’s batting, as they were swept aside by Essex for 40 in 18 overs at Canterbury. Elsewhere, the cricket was less frenetic, if no less compelling, brains evidently engaged. The heretical question to ask is – “Why can’t a professional cricketer adjust from one format to the other?” The fielding is pretty much the same, a few more minutes spent on slip catching practice notwithstanding. The ball is still delivered from about 20 years away, still seams. swings or spins at 50mph to 90mph and the bat is still the same piece of wood. The mental adjustment may be the most tricky to effect, but all these guys do is play cricket (12 months contracts these days). It’s not too much to ask is it? And plenty manage okay too.

Ball Two – Wheater earns his corn

That said, what a match it was at Canterbury (even if Billings did call for an harumph). Kent, on Essex’s insistence, batted first and were soon 138-8, only Daniel Bell-Drummond able to deal with Sam Cook and Mohammad Amir. Harry Podmore and Matt Milnes deployed the long handle and the ninth and tenth wicket contribution of 82 looked crucial when Essex were shot out for 114. But Cook and Amir were only warming up first time round and they shared nine of the ten Kent wickets that mustered that ignominious 40. A target of 153 looked anything but routine after that batting shocker and at 84-6, Billings’s blushes looked likely to be spared. Cue the nous of Adam Wheater and Simon Harmer who cobbled together 57 runs in 17 overs – Essex know how to win Champo matches. The whole thing was done in fewer than 190 overs of rollercoaster action few who witnessed it will forget. Essex stay top – just.

Ball Three – Somerset’s belief keeps the dream alive

That’s because Somerset were playing a blinder of their own at Edgbaston. Will Rhodes and Robert Yates (not yet out of his teens) put on 153 for the second wicket and there were plenty of contributions down the card, Warwickshire’s innings closed well into Day Two, 419 up. Steve Davies, having kept wicket through that long vigil, then batted the rest of the day, eventually dismissed after raising his century, but the home side led by over 100 and soon had Yates going well again. No matter – skipper Tom Abell (what a resourceful cricketer he is) picked up four wickets and it wasn’t long before he had the pads on, opening in pursuit of 258. The visitors were still over 100 short when Pakistan Test star, Babar Azam was dismissed, but Tom Banton, George Bartlett and Dom Bess (20, 21 and 22 years of age) got them home. A first pennant to fly over Taunton is still on.

Ball Four – Scarborough’s fair enough for Yorkshire

Much as those of us who throw our lot in with the Red Rose would like to, we can’t quite write off the White Rose’s challenge for title the after a splendid win at North Marine Road. The mood was hardly festive early on at Scarborough, as the local heroes slumped to 38-5, but Jonny Tattersall has a bit to prove and Tim Bresnan has been shooing away seagulls for half a lifetime, and the pair did enough to keep Yorkshire in the game. That’s often been enough this season against Nottinghamshire, and so it proved, with only Ben Duckett and Liam Patterson-White passing 50 for the visitors in either innings. Yorkshire are still a long way off the leaders, but Keshav Maharaj (eight wickets in this match) will be available for the big match at Taunton next month, so anything could happen, including a repeat of the Tykes’ innings victory in July.

Ball Five – Pope rewards the faithful at The Oval

“But there’s nobody really pressing for a place…” Well, if the first (and second and third) place you look for Test batsmen is amongst a settled white ball squad, it’s no bleedin’ wonder! As Marnus Labuschagne has amply demonstrated, form in county cricket can translate into the Test arena, but only if it’s given a chance. Ollie Pope looked as green as cheddar left in the sun since the last round of Champo games on his Test debut last season, but he knows how to construct big innings and, in only his second red ball match back after injury, made 221 not out, as Surrey and Hampshire eventually had to give best to an old school August shirtfront at The Oval. Pope’s reward was the nod for the role of stand-by for Jason Roy at Old Trafford, a set of affairs bizarrely more likely to be reversed when county rather than country calls.

Ball Six – Vilas victorious

While Lancashire’s attack has gained most of the plaudits on their rise to the top of Division Two (48 points clear of fourth placed Glamorgan, crushed at Colwyn Bay, promotion all but secured) but the batting has been solid too. It’s been led by wicketkeeper-batsman-captain-superman, Dane Vilas, whose 266 took his Champo average to 107 and his aggregate to 35 shy of 1000, with just Australia’s Number Four ahead of him in either division. Vilas is 34 now and fits the template of a Kolpak mercenary perfectly – not good enough for international cricket, but able to pad out the pension with a contract that keeps a young local player out. Ha -anything but. Vilas has taken on the captaincy with his heart and soul, a leader demanding the most from himself and from his team. The results prove that Lancashire’s management – not a body universally acclaimed for its foresight – got this one dead right.

 

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 19, 2019

Second Ashes Test Day Five – The Final Over of the Day

Ball One – Let’s get it on

Underway for Day Five of a compelling, if truncated, Test match after a 70 minutes delay that felt 30 minutes longer than strictly necessary. From what I could see, the umpires were making time for the players to go through their warm-up routines. They appear to comprise largely bowling and fielding drills, which I am content to concede are important in these days in which stretching is next to Godliness. But if a side have batted all day and declared with half an hour to go, the bowlers and fielders just come out and get on with it. I’d like to see that same urgency at 11.30am as one sees at 5.30pm.

Ball Two – Somnolent cricket and Somme inspired metaphors

Far too many war metaphors are used about sport, but they seemed apposite on Day Four, as Jofra Archer bombed Steven Smith as Joe Root reached for the nuclear option etc etc etc, yadda yadda yadda. Day Five’s morning session also invited a metaphor from the the war lexicon. Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, playing against type, enjoyed a session deep behind the lines, the big guns audible only on the horizon, as they performed the equivalent of completing requisition forms and auditing supplies. A little low heart rate cricket was what the match needed, what anyone in the sellout crowd still stunned after yesterday needed and what Jos Buttler’s career needed. Some might say England’s two best biffers should have biffed a bit more, bringing froward a declaration, but pushing back the start of any Australian chase seemed a wise decision from Root’s two colonels, their general hors de combat in the pavilion, after a sniper took him out first ball on Saturday.

Ball Three – Stokes stoked

In the traditional sense, Ben Stokes is an all-rounder. He bowls fast, he bats in the top six and he catches pigeons in the cordon. But he’s a particular kind of all-rounder – the Impact All-Rounder. Whether it’s making Stuart Broad do that face with an impossible catch, snaring a set Virat Kohli to turn a Test or getting the foot on to the throat and then pressing very hard indeed, he makes things happen. It’s why he’s worth more than his somewhat modest figures suggest (batting average less than 35, bowling average above 32). Having painstakingly batted through the “calm before the storm” morning with a careful Jos Buttler, when his partner was suckered into the leg trap, Stokes hit the ball into areas of the field untenanted by Australians. His 115* came off 165 balls, but the split was 54 (118) before Buttler was dismissed and 61 (47) after.

Ball Four – Root’s Goldilocks declaration

What makes a good declaration is usually bleedin’ obvious in hindsight, but rather trickier to discern in the moment. 267 in something between 47 and 53 overs (the fielding captain can slow things down if the batting side are prospering) with no restrictions on boundary fielders, is a more distant prospect than it looks in an age of commonplace 350+ ODI innings. The best indicator of the merits of a declaration before time piles up the evidence on one side or the other, is probably the volume of informed judges who think it too early or too late. I venture that Root has about a third saying he should have pulled out earlier, a third saying he should have got a few more and another third opining that he got it just right. Not bad so far.

Jofra Archer – sort of

Ball Five – Trigger warning: Archer on

Disbelief all round the ground as Steven Smith’s concussion replacement, Manus Labuschagne, is hit in the grill second ball by an electric Jofra Archer, two wickets already in his bag. Andrew Flintoff once said that Brett Lee was fast, but didn’t feel threatening, because you saw the ball all the way through his action. Archer hits batsmen because he’s fast, but there must be more to it than that. His run up is unusually tight to the stumps and a fast arm delivers the ball from the edge of the umpire’s hat’s rim, very straight, the delivery coming and coming and coming at you. Perhaps more than anything else – and this is remarkable for a man on debut – he expects to hit the batsman and they expect to be hit by him. And when thoughts like that intrude, it’s hard to wish them away.

Ball Six – Draw brings Australia closer to retaining The Ashes… believe it or not

In truth, England were never really close to the win and Australia never in danger of surrendering their opportunity to go to Headingley requiring England to win at least two out of three to wrest away The Ashes. But it doesn’t feel like that. Jofra Archer first scrambled Steven Smith’s technique and then scrambled his senses, Ben Stokes flayed the highly rated attack to all parts of St John’s Wood and Nathan Lyon and Josh Hazlewood were toothless throughout England’s second dig. Edgbaston had been a chastening experience for England fans, the Baggy Greens evoking memories of 1989 with Steven Smith as Stephen Waugh and the fear of a McGrathish 5-0 hanging in the air. BIzzarely, the pendulum has swung so far that expectations of Archer’s potency will require media management and Ben Stokes masks will be the most popular item in Leeds markets. What a difference there is between 83 mph and 93mph.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 18, 2019

Second Ashes Test Day Four – The Final Over of the Day

Patrick Cummins and Jofra Archer enjoy a quiet moment

Ball One – Hopping mad

Steven Smith went through his full repertoire of tics as he sought to muster the concentration and discipline required to re-establish his innings after the two rainy sessions yesterday. It really is quite extraordinary how his St Vitus Dance of movements resolve themselves into perfect balance and position at the moment bat intercepts ball. There are few comparators in cricket, and, more generally, few in all sport – I’m drawn to mathematics, specifically graphing The Mandelbrot Set, as the only illustration that works.

Ball Two – The Fast Show

Motorcycling is a pretty visceral experience – wind, rain, bumps in the road – you’re never in any doubt that the world hurtling towards you can be an unfriendly place. When that happens at 70mph, it’s one thing, but it’s quite another if you roll back the throttle for a swift overtaking – 85mph feels a whole lot more than 70mph! But it doesn’t feel much different to 90mph, from the saddle of bloody big Honda anyway. That is clearly not the case standing 20 yards away from the bowler, bat in hand. Jofra Archer’s ability to get up into the 90s, especially with the short ball, means that he hits batsmen more often than most, his roughing up of Matthew Wade worthy of an assist to Stuart Broad for the wicket.

Ball Three – Never mind the speedgun, watch the batsman

You can eat all the data you like, but when you see a true fast bowler, you know it. The second coming of Mitchell Johnson decided the 2013 / 14 Ashes within minutes and Jofra Archer had a similar impact on the crowd, if not the opposition, when he hit Steven Smith on the arm in the middle of what proved an epic afternoon session. Soft ball, long spell, great batsman – little matters when a man can crank it up well into the 90s. That’s given the Australians, even the great Steven Smith, something to think about today and for the rest of the series. But, and this is almost as important, England fans will know that they are in every Test if Jofra Archer is on the field, no matter what the scoreboard says.

Ball Four – Guha and Johnson putting together a fine partnership

Isa Guha, once it was clear that Steven Smith was okay having been hit on the neck by a very quick Jofra Archer bouncer, turned to Mitchell Johnson and asked, “What does it feel like when you hit a batsman like that?” It was the right question to the right man at the right time and, to his credit since he was at least as rattled as anyone looking on, Johnson answered unhesitatingly and honestly and with the decency that has marked his media work. While his answer wasn’t a surprise – you feel sick, but it’s part of the game (or words to that effect) – expressing it in that order possibly was. It was an excellent five minutes of broadcasting from two of the more interesting voices in the comm box.

Ball Five – Sanctimonious? On Twitter? Who knew…

I don’t know what Jofra Archer and Jos Buttler were doing when they were shown on TV laughing when Steven Smith was injured. I do know that I was commentating at Guerilla Cricket when Stuart Broad was pinged through the grille by Varon Aaron, the blood gushing. I witnessed it on television, but I was shaken up enough to know that I was babbling into the mic, not really knowing what I was saying,  slightly out of control. It would be wrong to say that I was suffering from shock, but my reaction was, at the very least, somewhat involuntary. When Smith went down, there was a real sense of dread around Lord’s for what felt like a long time – it must have felt longer on the field. One thing was on most minds. Those rushing to heap opprobrium on the England pair should reflect for a moment on how they might feel, up close and personal, in the midst of an incident like that and whether they, like me, might not have been quite so cool as they are when mashing the keyboard.

Ball Six – Bats out of Hell

Last month, after the Ireland Test, Joe Root publicly criticised the pitch served up by Lord’s new groundsman, Karl McDermott, describing it as “substandard” and “…not even close to being a fair contest between bat and ball.” If he’s tempted to make similar remarks after an extraordinary day of fast bowling, he’d be well advised to keep stumm. The bowling, especially from an electric Jofra Archer and a fired up Patrick Cummins, was as fast and furious as can have been seen on this grand old ground. But that’s only half the story. Too many batsmen, top order men not bunnies, fail to keep their eye on the ball, move too late to avoid an impact and rely too heavily on the protective equipment they have worn since childhood. The contribution of Mr McDermott to such technical problems is negligible.

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 17, 2019

The Final Over of the Week in County Cricket – 18 August 2019

A redhead Davies who was also good with the white ball 

Ball One – Davies cues up easy chase for Lancashire

Lancashire continued their fine season with a crushing win over Northamptonshire to all but secure qualification from the North Group with three matches to spare. Alex Davies steered the cruise to their target of 158 with an unbeaten 75, the Academy product playing as a specialist batsman these days, Dane Vilas getting captain’s dibs on the gloves. Since he was one of this column’s Five County Cricketers of the Year in 2017, Davies’ form has dipped a little in red ball cricket, but he enjoyed a good Blast last season and he’s back for more this time round. He’ll be 25 on Friday, still plenty young enough to catch the selectors’ eye, especially with England looking like they might need a little freshening up for the winter tours.

Ball Two – If anyone’s game, it’s anyone’s game in the North

Below Lancashire, there’s a real dogfight brewing for the three quarter-final places not spoken for, with even Yorkshire at the foot of the table not out of it with four matches to play. It might come down to a bit of luck with the weather or a tight run out decision going one way or the other, but there are plenty of sports who would like to have this level of jeopardy so deep into a season. With the big runs being scored in the South Group, Durham will be hoping that their opening pair, Australian D’Arcy Short and local lad Scott Steel, continue the form that puts them first and fourth amongst the North Group’s top run scorers.

Ball Three – M Klinger M*A*S*Hes Hampshire

In one of only two matches to beat the weather in the South, Gloucestershire eased to a win over Hampshire at Bristol. Veteran skipper, Michael Klinger, short of runs this season, anchored the chase with 40, allowing wicketkeeper-batsman James Bracey to tee off, his half-century ensuring that the 140 required was banked with a couple of overs to spare. In these baffling and troubled times, the thought that Michael Klinger is probably making 40 or so at a run-a-ball in Bristol is a comfort.

Ball Four – Middlesex bowlers making mayhem

Only Glamorgan appears gone in the South Group heading into the Champo break, with the other eight counties looking to win the key moments and put a run together. If bowlers win matches – less obviously so with white ball in hand than with red, but probably largely true – Middlesex look best placed to make the run for the line. In Steven Finn, Toby Roland-Jones, Nathan Sowter and Tom Helm, they have a settled attack which provides half the top eight wicket-takers in the Blast. With Somerset’s gun batsmen leading their comeback and Sussex and Kent with the points on the board, don’t be surprised to see that quartet gain the opportunity to go to Finals Day.

Ball Five – Match of the Week (North Group)

While batting pyrotechnics captures the headlines and it’s six after six after six in the advertising montages, everyone who loves cricket knows that there’s no thriller like a low scoring thriller – no matter the format. Worcestershire barely clawed their way to 117-7 at Chester-le-Street, no stand realising 30 runs, so when D’Arcy Short and Scott Steel were still together in the 12th over, 79 knocked off, few would have given the visitors a price. But one wicket brings two and the boundaries dried up – none in the last eight overs – and suddenly Alex Lees and Stuart Poynter needed nine off the last over. Pat Brown allowed just three singles and a couple of leg byes and Worcestershire set off down the motorway for home with a couple of points smuggled from under Durham’s noses.

Ball Six – Match of the Week (South Group)

In the end, it wasn’t much of a match, Surrey seeing off a disappointing Sussex batting effort, but the sense of occasion at The Oval was palpable. Floodlights, a full house – loud but not too rowdy – and a home side playing well in a local derby providing all the atmosphere you need. It was quite a contrast from earlier in the day at Lord’s (read more my Thursday on either side of the Thames here) and showed that the appetite for the oldest and (for now) the youngest formats of the game remains strong, in the metropolis at least. I’m not sure that the MCC members would have been as enthusiastic as the Kennington faithful when Kiss Cam beamed out of the big screens, but each to their own. And why not?

Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 17, 2019

Second Ashes Test Day Three – The Final Over of the Day

Jofra Archer and Stuart Broad

Ball One – Archer has the fans aquiver

Fast bowling is hard work. It breaks bodies with shin splints and hairline fractures early on, then bad backs and side strains later. Propelling a ball at 90mph is not something that sits well with human physiology and all those niggles are the body’s way of making its point. But sometimes, and it’s not often, fast bowling looks like the easiest thing in the world. Yesterday, Patrick Cummins threw himself into every delivery, fingers scraping the ground in the follow through, every muscle (and there are a few) employed to its fullest. Jofra Archer sends the ball down at roughly the same speed, but – seemingly – with barely any of the effort. From the same Pavilion End, he cruises in as if on rails and rocks back and then forward as a very quick arm releases the ball. Maybe it’s because everything is pointing in the same direction, maybe it’s because he’s close in to the stumps, maybe it’s just a gift from the gods, but he really does make his most demanding of trades look far too easy.

Ball Two – Dead Right Sir!

DRS will excite few comments but it had an excellent session overturning a poor decision from each umpire. First Aleem Dar can only have thought that one of the two noises he heard was bat, but both were pad, and the ball was hitting Travis Head’s middle stump halfway up. Shortly after, Chris Gaffney answered Ben Stokes’ appeal in the positive, but it didn’t shape right for the right arm over bowler to the left hand bat and, sure enough, it may have been hitting, but it pitched outside leg. It’s not been a good series so far for the umpires, but DRS is playing a blinder.

Ball Three – Taking a rain check

The Lord’s crowd can be hard to love – there’s all those champagne corks on the outfield for a start – but, with a weather forecast little short of apocalyptical, they turned up in huge numbers to see the morning session. They were rewarded with a fine display from England’s bowlers, who asked a lot of questions of the Australian batsmen, enough to flummox Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja and Travis Head. And, if no further play is possible, they’ll also be rewarded with a 50% refund on their ticket price. It seems hard to believe that until relatively recently, you just had to shrug your shoulders and write the day off without recourse to a rebate. Of course, the tickets cost a lot less back then.

Rain stopped play

Ball Four –

Ball Five –

Ball Six –

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